9 out of 10 estate agents in Barcelona tolerate illegal discrimination on ethnic grounds

by Lorraine Williamson
Barcelona discrimination

BARCELONA – Only 1 in 10 estate agents in Barcelona explicitly refuse to exercise this discrimination. Although they do not do so in an overt way. They warn the landlords that they cannot put this in the advertisement. Because, in their words, ‘it is not right’ and that ‘it is illegal’. And, in any case, they can ‘filter out’ the candidates who are interested in renting the property themselves. 

Specifically, 62% of the real estate agents directly agree to exclude immigrants, 24% cooperate, 10% refuse and the remaining 4% do not respond to the request. These are the conclusions of a discrimination study presented this Thursday by Barcelona City Council in collaboration with the social consultancy Broll SCCL. 

To this end, 350 telephone calls were made to various real estate agencies operating in the Catalan capital. The callers posed as owners of a flat in the posh Eixample district that they wanted to rent out, and asked for immigrants to be excluded from the selection process. 


As this is an illegal practice, the agency conducted the investigation ‘under cover’. When candidates contacted them, they detected whether they were ‘foreigners’ by name or accent. And then looked for an excuse not to arrange a visit to the property. ‘We don’t say that openly, but cover it up so they don’t feel offended. We explain that the flat has already been rented, for example,’ acknowledged one of the research agency’s employees. 

Even if this initial filtering fails and someone comes to visit that ‘they are not expecting’, they solve this by saying that ‘the apartment has already been rented’ or that the tenant’s profile is ‘unsuitable’. 

Cogesa Expats

In this study, of the 350 brokers contacted, half were registered and the other half were not. The unregistered estate agents were more likely to tolerate discrimination, the study found. 76% of them accept discrimination directly, and 17% allow discrimination. Membership of a professional association seems to be a brake on discriminatory practices; 49% of the brokers who are members of a professional association say yes to discrimination and 17% help with discrimination. 

‘Membership would act as a protective factor’, concludes Ariadna Fitó, founding partner of Broll SCCL, despite the fact that in both cases the majority of estate agents tolerate racism from landlords. 

Thousands of victims 

The councillor for the rights of the citizens of Barcelona, Marc Serra, stated at a press conference that there are ‘thousands of residents affected by this situation’, who come to the municipal offices and ‘report that they have been looking for a flat for months, or even years, and that it is very difficult for them not only to rent it, but even to view it, despite the fact that they meet the financial requirements’.   

€45,000 fine for racism 

Last summer, a landlord and an estate agent were fined €45,000 for racial discrimination by Barcelona city council.  They refused to rent a flat to a Moroccan, a violation of the Catalan Housing Rights Law 18/2007, made public.  

The estate agent told the Moroccan boy that the apartment was no longer available. However, a few weeks later,  a friend of the victim, who is not of Moroccan origin, pretended to be interested in the same flat with the same company. Furthermore, he was able to view the flat.  

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